Here's a list of my top horror films of the last decade in no particular order. What are some of yours?
1. The Descent (Neil Marshall, 2005).Two-fold narrative with dual monsters: the cave and the crawlers. Probably my favorite horror film of the last decade (with the original ending, of course.) This film is one of my favorites to teach along with the original TCM and Suspiria when discussing startling usages of sound and silence. I'm intrigued by the sonic sleight-of-hand in films where the viewer is purposefully distracted by non-threatening sounds, and then boom, someone's dead. In The Descent, this device is cleverly constructed, delivering a purging shock to the audience when the main character awakes in the night, and as she stares out the window into the darkness, we only hear ambient sounds—snoring, the breeze, a bird; as we are mentally diverted by the bird's cry, a pole breaks the window, slamming straight through her eye. Inevitably someone always screams during this scene. Perhaps my affection for this film also has something to do with going spelunking as a kid in the Ozark mountains.
2. Ginger Snaps and Ginger Snaps: Unleashed (John Fawcett, 2000 and Brett Sullivan, 2004; written by Karen Walton). I can't decide which I like better. Both highlight the travails of adolescent girls with humor, poignancy and horror. Lycanthropy employed as a metaphor for the sexual transitions of female adolescence, as well as for PMS, scarification, and drug addiction. The prequel is interesting as well, but doesn't compare to these. Mimi Rogers is a delight in this film (many have fortunately forgotten that she was once married to Tom Cruise) and sparks up the screen with subtle humor.
3. À l'intérieur (aka Inside, Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, 2007). The first 20 minutes read like an Antonioni film capturing grief and depression in blue cinematic splendor, and then cut, and the fireworks begin. Watch it the first time for entertainment and then watch it again for its intricacies of patterns, camera movement, sound, color and utilization of light to create suspense. The more I watch it the more I appreciate it. Beatrice Dalle is one beautiful, but scary woman. Scissors, babies, and beautiful women, need I say more.
4. Martyrs (Pascal Laugier, 2008). It took me two years to decide what I thought about this film because I never want to watch it again and yet I'm continually haunted by it (same as Gaspar Noé's Irreversible). It is a brilliant horror film essay on interrogation, the banality and routinization of torture, and our "need to know" regardless of the cost. I love the way it transitions through various horror subgenres so that where you begin and where you end is a lengthy and unexpected journey, and demonstrates the director's love of horror films in his various homages. The ending, which I initially discounted as "too easy" has continued to resonate in its ambiguity. Probably the most viscerally pounding and depressing film on this list.
5. The House of the Devil (Ti West, 2009). This film transported me back to being a kid going to see movies like The Silent Scream (1980) with my dad. The House of the Devil raises many interesting topics surrounding issues of psychosis, the frightening power of belief systems, externalizations vs internalizations of violence, authority constructs, Barbara Creed's notion of the monstrous-feminine, etc. It is a great homage to 70'/80's horror films, and what more to say than "Tom Noonan!" Remember Michael Mann's Manhunter and the tiger scene?
7. 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002). A wonderful update to the zombie genre. This one is due for a repeat viewing. (Speaking of zombies, I'm really excited about the new TV show The Walking Dead.)
8. Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006). Because it was miss-marketed as horror it's on this list, but like The Orphanage it is really more of a drama than a horror film. A war drama that has a fantasy-based narrative echo, seamlessly blending real-life horror with the nightmares of the imagination.
9. Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku, 2000). A Japanese semi-parallel to Lord of the Flies but with cute girls. We love you Kinji Fukasaku. Some people upon viewing this film assume the director is a 20-something adrenaline junkie when, in fact, the director, who died in 2003 from prostate cancer, was 70 when this film was released. (Who owns the artwork that Beat Takeshi did for this film? I want it!)
10. The Host (Joon-ho Bong, 2006). Funny, heartbreaking, suspenseful, intelligent, environmentally salient, and politically pointed. A film that is ultimately about the love and limitations of family with the monster serving as a catalyst for reunification.Viewed this in New York with a group of three guys (Greg Purcell, Jay Reed and Gabe Farrar) and afterwards we had nothing to argue about because we all loved it. (A very rare thing). Also loved Joon-ho Bong's Memories of Murder and his latest Mother.
11. The Orphanage (Juan Antonio Bayona, 2007). Like Pan's Labyrinth this is more drama than horror but who cares. Affective and haunting.
12. May (Lucky McKee, 2002). I cried at the theater during this film while everyone else laughed. A heartbreaking Frankenstein homage about loneliness. This film tapped into female longing and alienation so well that I made the mistake of assuming the director was a woman.
13. Eden Lake (James Watkins, 2008). This film unsettled me in its utter nullification and bleakness, or perhaps kids just scare the hell out of me.The final sequence and shot of a boy looking at his reflection donned in the victim's sunglasses is striking and disquieting in its acknowledgment of the cyclicality of violence.
14. Ils (aka Them, David Moreau and Xavier Palud, 2006). Like Eden Lake I found this film incredibly disconcerting due to the KIDS. (Recalls The Strangers and Haneke's Funny Games though less vicious than either.
15. The Ring (Gore Verbinski, 2002). When I was a child The Blob scared me silly—all that gelatinous throttling was terrifying. I think The Ring, with its liquid trespass of the young girl who drips out of tv's and video equipment reigning destruction, has a similar effect on me. (Kristeva's theory of abjection, indeed.)
A few more that should be on the list: Wolf Creek (Greg Mclean, 2005); Chan-wook Park's Vengeance Trilogy (arguably not horror); The Chaser (Hong-jin Na; 2008); A Tale of Two Sisters (Ji-woon Kim; 2003).
Horror films I want to see in the new year: Black Swan (I know, I should have already seen it), A Serbian Film (Yes, I'm crazy to want to see this film), Mother's Day (loved the original and will be curious as to what they do with the strange, and awesome ending), Wes Craven's My Soul to Take, Ji-woon Kim's I Saw the Devil, Pascal Laugier's The Tall Man, Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury's Livid with the aforementioned Beatrice Dalle, YellowBrickRoad, Vanishing on 7th Street, and Heartless (I'm thrilled to see another Philip Ridley film who did the disconcerting and beautiful The Reflecting Skin with a young Viggo.)